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Jack Kerouac's Underwear

Posted by Kari Koty on

In remembrance of Jack Kerouac, and in celebration of what would have been his 100th birthday (March 12th 1922) -  I wanted to share with you a group of pieces in my personal collection which I acquired from his estate. These pieces had been sitting quietly in his St. Petersburg, Florida home since his death in 1969. He took up residence at this home in 1957 to await the release of "On the Road". He would subsequently write "The Dharma Bums" and live out the remainder of his years there with his third wife Stella, and his mother. 

The grouping includes two undershirts and two pairs of underwear, both worn heavily by Kerouac. They paint an intimate picture of how he moved about the rituals of daily life. Beyond his icon status, the commodification of his image, and the examination of his prose - Kerouac was a highly spiritual person who believed in the pleasure and holiness of the everyday. There is a level of reverence and appreciation for what a garment can provide for you when you wear it to a ragged state. Kerouac lived a life true to his “Beat”, Catholic, and Buddhist values - one that questioned the ever growing post war materialism and consumerism. It is apparent in the level of wear the garments have accumulated, and creates a vivid and powerful portrait to explore.  

1960s Penny’s Towncraft Undershirt

Prominent orange sweat stains sprinkle across the chest and upper neck, cascading down the back. You can see large blocks of orange along the broad of the back where the shirt was folded against his skin, and especially soaked, perhaps from leaning back in his favorite recliner or sitting on the porch taking in the Florida heat. The pocket of the tee has two holes along each upper seam. Stressed from the weight of a small notebook, pen, and a pack of cigarettes. Taken in and out, in and out, several times a day to jot down an idea or light up a cigarette. The shadow of a red object, likely one which remained in the pocket when the tee was washed, appears in the form of a pink stain that covers the pocket in its entirety.

1950s Jockey Undershirt 

Brown blood stains dribble from the collar to the chest, appearing to be from a mishap during a shave. The stains on the chest are smudged in an attempt to be wiped off. Holes dot the shoulders seams and are accompanied by two more along the middle waist. Remnants of the shirt being pulled and tucked in at the waist many times. A small faded red drip is found on the stomach, with the look of a brightly colored drink, or even a popsicle.  

1950s Hanes Briefs

The smaller pair of the two underwear, worn well and likely a favorite pair. The elastic of the underwear is falling out of the legs from use and frequent miles.
Lots of pilling can be found at the crotch and along the leg openings. A sign of his active body moving from one place to the next, seeking its next adventure.

1960s B.V.D Brand Briefs

The larger of the two pairs, worn later in his life. Two brown spots are seen on the lap, and are reminiscent of coffee stains. The is one small bright yellow spot at hip height, perhaps from a mustard splatter while making a sandwich or a speckle of yellow paint. Out of the lot these have the least amount of wear to them, and were likely purchased and worn just prior to his death.

 

I can’t help but think about all that was said and done by Jack Kerouac while these were worn - and I will tell you that they have a very powerful presence. I find an intense draw to the idea that these were worn while he pondered his fears and dreams, walked down his favorite street, met with friends (many of whom had their own great impact on culture), pet his cat whom he loved dearly, prayed, sat alone at the typewriter - and on and on. They have artifacts of his DNA, his blood and sweat, soaked in the cotton and preserved through the magic of time. The clothing we wear holds more to it than just function or adornment when we are living, it can tell a compelling story when we are gone. 

Pull My Daisy

Pull my daisy
tip my cup
all my doors are open
Cut my thoughts
for coconuts
all my eggs are broken
Jack my Arden
gate my shades
woe my road is spoken
Silk my garden
rose my days
now my prayers awaken

Bone my shadow
dove my dream
start my halo bleeding
Milk my mind &
make me cream
drink me when you’re ready
Hop my heart on
harp my height
seraphs hold me steady
Hip my angel
hype my light
lay it on the needy

Heal the raindrop
sow the eye
bust my dust again
Woe the worm
work the wise
dig my spade the same
Stop the hoax
what’s the hex
where’s the wake
how’s the hicks
take my golden beam

Rob my locker
lick my rocks
leap my cock in school
Rack my lacks
lark my looks
jump right up my hole
Whore my door
beat my boor
eat my snake of fool
Craze my hair
bare my poor
asshole shorn of wool

say my oops
ope my shell
Bite my naked nut
Roll my bones
ring my bell
call my worm to sup
Pope my parts
pop my pot
raise my daisy up
Poke my papa
pit my plum
let my gap be shut

- Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady, Allen Ginsberg

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